Tag Archives: democracy

Springfield Dominicans, NETWORK team, and our hosts from Faith Coalition for the Common Good

NETWORK Hits the Road for Our Pope Francis Voter Tour

NETWORK Hits the Road for Our Pope Francis Voter Tour

Meg Olson
October 11, 2022
Springfield Dominicans, NETWORK team, and our hosts from Faith Coalition for the Common Good

Springfield Dominicans, NETWORK team, and hosts from Faith Coalition for the Common Good gather at the kickoff event of the Pope Francis Voter Tour in Springfield, Ill. on Oct. 8.

For nearly the whole month of October, the NETWORK team is on the road for our Pope Francis Voter Tour. We kicked off in Springfield, Illinois on Oct. 8, are in East Lansing and Detroit this week, then heading to Ohio, then trekking across PA, where we finish on Oct. 29 in Erie.

On this tour, we are calling on Catholics and all people of good will to protect our democracy by building an inclusive and equitable society in which all people can flourish. We believe that your vote is your voice, and with your voice can add advance a wide, intersecting range of issues that support the common good.

Our tour includes visits to social service agencies and community organizations to listen and learn from impacted people about the challenges they are facing in their daily lives, workshops at colleges, and Town Halls for Spirit-Filled Voters.

So, you may be wondering, “what’s a Pope Francis Voter?” A Pope Francis Voter is a multi-issue voter who is willing do the work to build a multi-racial, inclusive democracy. Because of our belief of Imago Dei, of the inherent dignity of every person, we know it is immoral to allow a single issue to outweigh candidates’ positions that harm immigrants and asylum seekers, low-income families, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, other marginalized communities, and the environment. Our faith calls us to position ourselves with those who are marginalized and those who have the least power in our society.

Pope Francis calls particular attention to this in Gaudete et Exultate (Rejoice and Be Glad). In this apostolic exhortation, he names all of the issues, such as the lives of the poor and the injustices that migrants face, that are “equally sacred to the lives of the unborn” (101-102).

Pope Francis actually has quite a lot to say about all of the issues we need to consider as we prepare for the election: racism, poverty, climate change, and even democracy itself. We here at NETWORK didn’t want you to have to pour over all of his writings and speeches, so we collected some key passages for you and put them on our Equally Sacred Checklist, our tool for the 2022 Midterms that equips you to evaluate any candidate running for office through a faithful, multi-issue lens. In fact, using the Equally Sacred Checklist is the first step in becoming a Pope Francis Voter!

Small group discussion at Pope Francis Voter Tour event in Springfield, Ill.

Springfield Dominican Sisters participate in small group discussions at the kickoff of the Pope Francis Voter Tour in Springfield, Ill. on Oct. 8.

At our Town Halls for Spirit-Filled Voters, we take a very close look at what is preventing our nation from having the multi-racial, inclusive democracy that we envision. What is actually keeping us from having a society where, no matter where we live, how much money is in our wallet, or the color of our skin, all people thrive?

As we were creating the town hall, we had an “ah-ha” moment: the very issues listed on our Equally Sacred Checklist are also the blocks that are preventing us from moving towards the world we want to see. Lately, it feels like these blocks have piled up into a wall. In our Town Hall for Spirit-Filled Voters, we name it the Wall of Division, Extremism, and Obstructionism. This wall is very real, and it didn’t just spring up during the 2016 Election. For well over 50 years, corporations, the ultra-wealthy, and their lobbyists, and some politicians have very strategically and systematically built this wall through an unrelenting assault on our collective rights and the common good. Why? Because they are seeking their own unrestricted power and wealth. And they have no problem sacrificing our democracy to get what they seek.   

Wall of Division, Extremism, and Obstructionism

So what can we do to dismantle the wall? Do the work of Pope Francis Voters! One significant task is to tell people, either in conversations or in letters to the editor, about the importance of multi-issue voting. At each of our Town Halls, we have local Catholic sisters model their “elevator pitches” for why they are multi-issue, Pope Francis Voters. At our Town Hall in Springfield, Springfield Dominican Sisters Rebecca Ann Gemma, Marcelline Koch, and Marilyn Runkel had this important role. After they shared, illustrating their points with personal stories, it was the audience’s turn to get into small groups and practice saying why they are multi-issue voters.  

As the NETWORK team listened in to the small groups’ conversations, we heard people say that when they were children, they were taught not to talk about politics. We here at NETWORK love to remind everyone that Pope Francis says, “A good Catholic meddles in politics.” It is exactly because of our belief in Imago Dei that we must participate in political life. We do this by voting, helping others register to vote, and sharing why we’re multi-issue voters. And when we take these actions and more, we can have fair and trustworthy elections, we can dismantle racist policies, and we can make sure everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

At the end of the Town Halls, we ask everyone to take the Pope Francis Voter Pledge. Whether or not you’re able to attend a Town Hall, you can too! Go to https://networkadvocates.org/voter-pledge and to join us this election season and beyond!

Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM, speaks at a reparations vigil in Cleveland in June 2022.

We Do Not Live Single-Issue Lives

We Do Not Live Single-Issue Lives

The Struggle For Justice Calls on All People To Recognize Our Interconnection
Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM
October 8, 2022

As an undergraduate student, my history classes introduced me to the activism of the 1960s: civil rights, voting rights, women’s liberation. I distinctly remember listening in awe to a guest speaker who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. and thinking, “Wow, to have been a part of something that changed the course of this country…”

I naively thought that the era of fighting for our rights had passed, that we were on the right side of the moral arc of the universe. Of course, this is far from the case. The last six years have shown us that la lucha sigue, the struggle continues. Except now it’s more existential than it’s been at any time in my life, or even in my parents’ lifetimes.

Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM, speaks at a reparations vigil in Cleveland in June 2022.

Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM, a NETWORK Education and Organizing Specialist, speaks at a reparations vigil at a parish in Cleveland in June 2022.

It’s 2022, and I can’t believe that we’re fighting for the future of democracy. I had thought that was put to rest with the defeat of fascism in World War II, the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. But no, we somehow face an onslaught of people in the U.S. who think that we should abandon the practice of upholding free and fair elections, and their vision of this country beyond elections are equally chilling.

The result is a long list of things I’m continually surprised to find myself advocating for today. We’re still fighting for voting rights, for an end to systemic racism, for immigration reform, for the acknowledgement of — let alone meaningful action on — climate change, for indigenous rights, for access to adequate health care, housing, and nutrition. In 2022, it’s easy to ask incredulously, how did we get here!?

In his Sept. 1 address in Philadelphia, President Biden said that “blind loyalty to a single leader” is a lethal threat to democracy. And renewed attempts to suppress the vote and overturn elections, and stripping away rights for all people, but especially women and non-white people, bears this out. But another blind loyalty to a single candidate or policy has also abetted this corrosive process. It’s the decades-long phenomenon of people, especially many Catholics, who engage in single-issue voting as their primary political engagement rather than working toward the common good.

Father Bryan Massingale offered the best rebuttal of this: “The crises that face us — militarism, racism, ecology and poverty — are interlocking, overlapping and compounded. … Single- issue groups and struggles will be neither effective nor compel people’s attention. To paraphrase the great Audre Lorde [a 20th-century Black writer and civil rights activist], many people do not have the luxury of engaging single-issue struggles because they — we — do not live single-issue lives.”

I would go a step further: Single-issue voting is conveniently racist. It’s like wearing blinders; it blocks out one’s view of the peripheries. To ignore systemic racism is to ignore active attempts at voter suppression and the lack of equal representation in our politics. Granting power to single-issue voters means that we silence the building up of inclusive communities. The rights of people of color, women, immigrants, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ+ community, and any other minority community are whittled away in the name of single-issue voting.

As Pope Francis reminded us in his 2018 letter in Gaudate et Exsultate, “Rejoice and Be Glad” that the lives of all people who are marginalized in our communities are “equally sacred.” That includes all kinds of people who are already born: people in poverty, people who are ill, the elderly, and victims of human trafficking. This is the call for all people: If we continue to only focus on a single issue, we will be responsible for the fall of our democracy, for the death of our planet.

The bitter fruits of the insurrection, blatant racism in our institutions and policies, election deniers, and attempts to suppress the vote should scream out to us. They beg of our attention. We must call on all people of faith and goodwill to be multi-issue voters and work to uphold and advance Gospel values.

People cast their votes for federal democracy reform as part of NETWORK’s “Team Democracy” events across the country in 2021. Voting rights, which have come under threat at the state level since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, are a key component of NETWORK’s efforts to defend democracy.

The Faith-Filled Push To Save Democracy

The Faith-Filled Push To Save Democracy

A Stark Choice of Futures Faces Voters in 2022
Melissa Cedillo
October 7, 2022
People cast their votes for federal democracy reform as part of NETWORK’s “Team Democracy” events across the country in 2021. Voting rights, which have come under threat at the state level since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, are a key component of NETWORK’s efforts to defend democracy.

People cast their votes for federal democracy reform as part of NETWORK’s “Team Democracy” events across the country in 2021. Voting rights, which have come under threat at the state level since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, are a key component of NETWORK’s efforts to defend democracy.

Upholding a democracy is a daunting task this year. According to the elections data website FiveThirtyEight, 195 out of 529 GOP nominees on the ballot this year “fully denied” the outcome of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Dozens of others “raised questions” or accepted the results “with reservations.” Only 71 respondents say they accept the results fully.

As statistics like these surface the vulnerability and fragility of the system, faith groups in Washington and around the country are attuned to the moral urgency that this moment requires.

As the 2022 midterm elections grow closer, the NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice is just one entity among this patchwork of organizations, interfaith coalitions, and campaigns are coming together to respond to election deniers, Christian nationalism, and all the forces that currently threaten democracy in the U.S.

A Particular Threat

Anthea Butler, chair of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania

Anthea Butler

Anthea Butler, chair of the department of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania and a historian of African-American and U.S. religion, notes that one of the long lasting threats to democracy continues to be Christian nationalism. Butler has written and studied the intersection of race, religion, history, and politics extensively. In her book “White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America,” she outlines the long history of Christian Nationalism and racism in the U.S.

“The first thing to understand about a lot of Christian nationalists is that they don’t want democracy,” Butler says. “Because at [Christian nationalism’s] core, it really wants to set up God’s law, rather than the Constitution, as an operating document for what this country is supposed to be.”

Butler says this form of nationalism poses a threat not only to people who immigrated to the country to flee religious persecution, but also to Christians who do not follow the same political beliefs. Denying the separation of church and state, ignoring the fact that many people who are not Christian live in the U.S., or simply not taking the outcome of the 2020 election seriously are some of the ways Christian nationalism erodes the foundation of a country that celebrates religious freedom.

One group responding to the threat of Christian nationalism is the Center for Faith, Justice, and Reconciliation.

Sabrina Dent of the Center for Faith, Justice and Reconciliation

Sabrina Dent

“The ideology that is being promoted by a small group of people that identify as Christians that causes great harm and moral injuries to the community as a whole,” explains Sabrina E. Dent, president of the center.

The center is a community of scholars, faith leaders, organizers, and citizens working to expand the idea of religious freedom in the U.S. The center also works to put on educational programming. The center has worked on immigration issues, LGTBQ+ issues, reproductive health issues, voting rights, environmental issues, criminal justice issues, church and state issues, and voting rights. Whenever the center feels that there is a justice issue, especially when looking at racial and religious minorities, they are willing to speak up and support these groups.

“A lot of our work is done in collaboration with other groups as well because, like I say all the time, this is not work that we could do by ourselves, “ Dent explains.

The Range of Issues

Others, including NETWORK, also see the work of protecting democracy as extending to other freedoms, especially voting rights. Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, himself a Baptist minister, has explained the political as a way to embrace the dignity of all of humanity in his case for expanding voting rights.

“There is no question that voting rights is a moral issue. I have often said that democracy in a real sense is the political enactment of a spiritual idea. This notion that each of us is a child of God, and therefore we ought to have a vote and a voice in the direction of our country and our destiny within it,” Warnock told NPR at the beginning of the year.

“If we don’t have democracy in this country, all human rights in this country are going to be denigrated. We need to fight for democracy,” says Barbara Hazelett, a member of NETWORK’s Virginia Advocates team.

Her group attends public town halls to make comments about justice issues like paid family leave or eliminating practices like solitary confinement. She has attended the local events to hand out leaflets on different topics and talk about state legislation with Virginians. She has also traveled to Washington to advocate for bills.

The comprehensive nature of this work, focusing across a range of issues, exposes a friction that is especially prevalent in Catholic circles, the issue of single-issue voting. Pope Francis, in his 2018 letter Gaudete Et Exsultate, spoke against this approach when he spoke of poverty and human life issues as being “equally sacred” to one another.

He revisited this rhetoric in a June 2020 general audience, in which he noted that “we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”

Min. Christian S. Watkins, government relations advocate at NETWORK, is quick to tie the work of defending democracy to the hyper-racialized rhetoric happening in the U.S. The risk that poses to a healthy democracy is that it continues to feed racist policies that only benefit a few and which intentionally suppress others, especially Black and Brown people. In other words, the system has to live up to its own ideals to protect it in the future.

For the structure of democracy in the U.S. to be authentic, says Watkins, it must include the people that have historically been — and continue to be — left out of democracy: “We have to realize our common bonds, our mutual experiences, our interconnectedness.”

A New Social Fabric

A New Social Fabric

We Must Heed the Warning Signs and Save Our Democracy
Mary J. Novak
October 6, 2022

Turbulent times can take a toll on our imagination. As our politics grow ever more volatile and extreme, we interpret events through the lens of our total experience and assume that, sooner or later, events will settle back into our notion of “normal.”

This is a faulty view. If the last several years have taught us anything, it’s that our imaginations are not prepared for what might come next. And as the midterm elections rapidly approach, this warning is especially urgent.

Last January, my faith and public life colleagues in Washington held their annual retreat, and we had the privilege of hearing a presentation by Dr. Rachel Kleinfeld, senior fellow for the Democracy, Conflict and Governance Program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She clarified that, while we in the U.S. often credit ourselves with being the world’s oldest democracy, we in fact started as a fairly limited democracy – we did not incorporate our Black community – and have only tried to be an inclusive democracy for 60 years, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Sadly, this also marked the point at which our political parties began sorting racially, a process that has continued to present day.

But what Dr. Kleinfeld shared next was more disturbing: When identity aligns with party, it increases political instability: “When more than one identity marker lines up, it actually increases chances of civil war by 12 times.” And in the U.S. our major parties are divided by geography (rural vs. urban), religion, and a host of other things.

The U.S. is among the most polarized countries in the world. People who are trained to see and understand democracies and civil wars across the globe, who study the data on civil wars, were not surprised by what happened on Jan. 6 of last year. They agree that the U.S. has high risk factors for civil war or significant harm to our democracy.

Dr. Kleinfeld explained: “Globally, four factors really elevate risk of election violence: competitive elections that decide balance of power, parties divided by identity, election rules that allow you to win by calling on identity because of how districts are drawn, and a security sector that leans to one side.”

We in the U.S. have all four. We also have alarming upward trends of actual violence against public officials, the politicization and extremism of law enforcement and military (1 in 10 rioters on Jan. 6 had service backgrounds), and the skyrocketing of new gun sales. We also have nearly two thirds of state and federal offices being sought by Republicans who do not fully accept the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

In many Catholic churches, however, we can find people of all races and identities under the same roof. These are the kinds of places where peacebuilding can happen, where we can create the conditions for building the understanding we need to turn away from this downward spiral. As we look back on the Jan. 6 Committee hearings and all the violence of recent months, I hope we can all agree that we need to pay attention and start reaching out to those who do not agree with us on every issue.

Dr. Kleinfeld left us with this: “Hope, family, connection: A country rent by dissension must see, feel, and touch how it might come together. Families pulled apart by politics, conspiracy, disagreements over COVID, must find a way back to one another. Social fabric must be darned and re-sewn in a stronger tapestry.”

To help actualize this, churches can lead the way by saying no to violence of any type. Dr. Kleinfeld also called for the subordination of politics below religion, rather than making power into a religion unto itself. These are especially powerful admonitions as we enter into what may be the most consequential U.S. election since the Civil War.

We should also employ our imaginations to envision how the future can be profoundly more just and given to human flourishing, one that is vastly better for all than the old status quo we somehow accepted. At NETWORK, we keep this vision before us in the work we do, and especially as we approach this election. As followers of Jesus and collaborators with the Spirit, we walk in hope. We envision a new, inclusive social fabric, one that is ever durable and resplendently vibrant.